It is a popular belief that Arizona is a more “mother-friendly” state, meaning that in most paternity cases, mothers are usually awarded superior rights to the child. This belief is only partially true – once legal paternity is established by the child’s father the playing field evens out substantially.
As an unwed mother, you have all legal rights to your child until paternity has been established. Among other things, you have the power to control the father’s contact with the child, make legal decisions on behalf of the child, and travel out of the home state with your child on vacation without the father’s consent or permission.
Arizona has adopted a policy that in most cases it is best for mothers and fathers to have equal rights to their children. In fact, Arizona law prohibits the Court from favoring one parent over the other on the basis of gender. Therefore, the initial superior rights enjoyed by mothers of children born out of wedlock is not really gender-based favoritism, but rather a practical policy affording the known and present parent all legal rights to the child until the other parent establishes not only their biological relationship but also legal paternity and responsibility for the child.
After legal paternity is established, the parents will most likely be awarded substantially equal legal and physical custody rights to the child unless one of the parents is found to be unfit in some form or fashion, such as having significant substance abuse issues or having committed domestic violence against the other parent or the child. The Court has an obligation to make rulings in accordance with the best interest of the child, and it is the Court’s belief that it is generally in the best interest of the child for both parents to share joint legal decision making authority and that each parent have frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact with the child. Accordingly, one of the factors the Court will consider in establishing legal decision making authority and parenting time is which one of the parents is more likely to allow the other parent frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact with the child. Therefore, a mother who prevents the father from seeing his child simply because she does not have to facilitate contact until the Court makes an order, may have those actions come back to be used against her in Court in a later paternity case.
The outcome of each individual case depends on the circumstances presented to the Court. In general, being flexible and open with the other parent with regard to parenting time and decisions on the child’s behalf is viewed favorably by the Court. Of course, a mother who is restricting the father’s access to the child out of a reasonable belief that the father poses a threat to the child’s well-being is not acting inappropriately but in the child’s best interests. In cases where unsupervised parenting time with one parent would endanger the child’s physical, emotional, moral, or mental well-being, the Court may restrict that parent’s access to the child.
Follow us in our next few blogs as we discuss the different avenues for fathers to seek legal precedence and participation in their child’s life.
If you find yourself or a loved one in need of protecting your rights or establishing paternity and you would like to work with one of our experienced Attorneys, please call OWENS & PERKINS at 480.630.2464 to schedule your free 30 minute consultation.